When it comes to environmental policies and support for the Paris climate accords, Canada talks the talk. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to enact a national carbon tax by 2018. After meeting with US president Donald Trump last week, he said that Canada would aggressively pursue its climate change goals and would “show leadership that quite frankly the entire world is looking for.” But does Canada walk the walk? According to a study by four leading environmental groups, national and provincial fossil fuel subsidies in Canada totaled $3.3 billion last year.
Those subsidies include extraction incentives as well as funds to support fossil fuel research and development. The climate groups say they amount to paying oil and gas producers $19 a ton to create carbon emissions. The carbon tax proposed by the Trudeau government would ramp up to $50 a ton by 2022. “This system is like taxing consumers when they buy cigarettes while giving massive tax breaks to tobacco companies that encourage them to produce more cigarettes. It doesn’t make sense,” said Alex Doukas of Oil Change International.
Dale Marshall of Environmental Defense added: “Unless Canada phases out massive subsidies to oil and gas companies, Trudeau’s carbon price will do little to encourage polluters to cut carbon emissions. The $3.3 billion in annual subsidies could be put to much better use by investing in climate action, healthcare or other initiatives.”
The critique from environmental activists highlights the difficulty of reconciling policy with reality. Like its neighbor to the south, Canada is not a homogeneous society. Attitudes toward fossil fuel and environmentalism vary widely from province to province. Alberta is heavily committed to fossil fuel extraction, especially tar sands operations that employ many of its citizens and provide much of its income.
British Columbia to the west is far more environmentally minded. Earth justice groups there are outraged the national government has recently approved a $27 billion liquefied natural gas facility within the province. Nationally, Conservative Party leaders have dismissed the national carbon tax proposal as “complete insanity.” They say it will take a “sledgehammer” to the Canadian economy.